Our Tanzania safaris visit a vibrant and beautiful country with world-class parks. Safaris have been a way of life in Tanzania for decades; the country is blessed with the winning combination of both superb big game and stunning tropical beaches. You can fly from a Tanzania safari camp in the morning to an Indian Ocean beach for an afternoon swim.
Because Tanzania is vast, it helps when planning to think of four broad areas: the famous ‘northern circuit’; the wild parks of southern Tanzania; the remote parks in western Tanzania; and the beaches of the coast & islands. The three safari areas are very different; but all combine well with trips to the beach! Looking at each in more detail:
Safaris in northern Tanzania
Tanzania’s first safari areas were in the north, and this ‘northern circuit’ remains its most famous safari area. The Ngorongoro Crater and the Rift Valley’s Lake Manyara are names to conjure with – whilst the Serengeti’s great migration is one of the world’s great wildlife spectacles; no wonder it attracts hundreds of thousands of human visitors every year!
Sadly, sometimes the mini-buses out-number the animals here; you can find the side of mass tourism to Africa that we don’t like. Hence we’ve strived to find ways of visiting these areas, whilst avoiding the human hotspots. The main parks here are:
Ngorongoro Conservation Area
Tanzania’s greatest wildlife showpiece, the Ngorongoro Crater has breath-taking views, phenomenal game and a lot of visitors. Look out for elephants, buffalo and black rhino on the crater floor; the large lion population is far from camera shy. (Read more about the Ngorongoro area…)
The Serengeti’s vast ecosystem covers several different reserves, and includes overwhelming amounts of game. Many areas are very busy; others are harder to reach, but worth the effort for their exclusivity. It is still possible to visit have the migration to yourself – but getting the timing right is a science in itself.
Lake Manyara National Park
This small, yet spectacular park sits between the Great Rift Valley’s steep Western escarpment and the Lake Manyara, a shallow alkaline lake. It is easily visited from Arusha by 4WD, and often on the way to Ngorongoro Crater and/or the Serengeti.
Tarangire National Park
At its best when it’s dry, Tarangire is an excellent park: with abundant game and very varied bird-life. The bulk of it is also relatively quiet, with few people reaching the southern regions where you can still find a sense of ‘wilderness.
The parks in southern Tanzania cover huge areas and offer great game-viewing in remote areas, based at small lodges where local safari guides (often real experts) drive you around in open 4WDs. It’s an excellent experience, similar to the best safaris in southern Africa. There is no ‘migration’ here – but the game is excellent, and you will relish the real feeling of wilderness here and complete lack of crowds! The main options are:
Arguably Africa’s largest game reserve, the Selous offers some of Tanzania’s best big game safaris with excellent guiding, and it’s a relatively short flight from Dar es Salaam, the coast and islands. Selous is perfect for a week’s safari.
In the heart of Tanzania, Ruaha makes a great extension to a Selous safari. It’s hotter, drier and higher here, so the environments, and several of the game species, are different. Being that bit more remote, there are even fewer camps here.
These are parks for the well-traveled enthusiast. Mikumi is one of Tanzania’s smaller parks, best visited with a 4WD and driver/guide. The environment is similar to that in Selous, and you can base yourself here for trips into the Udzungwa Mountains – a small, densely-forested park where keen wildlife enthusiasts come in search of endemic species.
Safaris in western Tanzania are in a league of their own with superb and contrasting wildlife experiences – but see a map to realize that they are seriously remote! Because of this, they are expensive and receive very few visitors. The two main parks here are:
One of Africa’s most remote safari parks, Katavi has excellent games, including prolific buffalo and lion, and an unbeatable feeling of wilderness. It’s very remote even by Tanzania’s standards, but a big draw for old African hands who have traveled extensively.
Totally different from Tanzania’s safari parks, Mahale is a thickly-forested and mountainous. On one side is the vast Lake Tanganyika, and the odd superb beach; but come because it’s Africa’s best to watch wild chimpanzees at close quarters. It’s a superb experience, in a park that’s very remote and so costly to reach.
Tanzania’s beaches, especially those on its islands, are spectacular, accessible, and often relatively inexpensive to visit. There’s a real choice of small beach lodges and hotels; consider the options:
The spicy, exotic island of Zanzibar conjures up an amazing image. What’s more, it can live up to it – with a cosmopolitan mix of cultures, enchanting palm-fringed beaches and some good diving and snorkeling in the ocean around it.
South of Zanzibar, Mafia Archipelago is laid-back, sparsely-populated and delightful. A huge marine park protects one side of this, where there is first-class diving and snorkeling and a few small beach lodges. Mafia is great value and a firm favorite with its visitors.
Pemba doesn’t have Zanzibar’s reputation or its choice of beach lodges. It’s a little less easy to reach, and the populations are a little more conservative, and so it has fewer visitors. It has one good beach lodge, which isn’t cheap but is popular with a young British honeymoon crowd.
On the mainland, Ras Kutani is only about an hour’s drive south of Dar es Salaam. It can make a good stop for two nights at the start or end of your trip – and here there are two very good, if contrasting, lodges beside a lovely long beach.
The urban sprawl of Dar es Salaam is Tanzania’s largest and most important city, and a major gateway for international flights – although it’s not the country’s capital city! ‘Dar’, as it’s often known, is fine for a night’s stay, but most visitors pass straight through.
Camps in the remote areas of southern and western Tanzania are usually visited on fly-in safaris, which use light aircraft to fly between the parks and camp. Flying allows quick access to even remote camps, and scheduled aircraft run frequently. Once at the camps, their own guides will use 4WDs and boats to get you around the parks.
In the northern circuit, the choice is more complex. The main parks here are relatively close together, and so private-guided safaris work very well – and are the obvious choice when small groups or families are travelling together. These have the advantage that you’ll drive through the towns and rural areas, and be able to stop there – giving you insights into local life, and showing you what Tanzania is like outside its safari areas. However, travelling by road is a lot slower, and journeys can be bumpy, dusty and long. You’ll normally travel in closed-cab 4WDs, and use the same vehicle for game drives; whilst these have a pop-top roof for game-viewing, they’re not generally as good as open-topped game-viewing vehicles.
In 1951, the enormous Serengeti National Park was declared, encompassing the present Serengeti, plus the Ngorongoro area and surrounding Crater Highlands. However much of the southern side of this was already being used by the Maasai, hence it was split into the present-day Serengeti National Park, and the current Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA).The conservation area now encompasses a large area of the short-grass plains on the southern side of the Serengeti Plain and also the Ngorongoro Highlands, a range of largely extinct ancient volcanoes on the west side of the Great Rift Valley.
The showpiece of the conservation area is undoubtedly the Ngorongoro Crater itself. Declared a World Heritage Site in 1978, this is the largest intact volcanic caldera in the world. It measures about 16-19km in diameter, with walls of 400-610m in height. However you measure it, the Crater is a strong candidate for any list of the world’s greatest natural wonders.
The mineral-rich floor of this spectacular bowl is largely flat, open and covered in nutritious grasses – much to the liking of large herds of zebra and wildebeest which graze here. These extensive open plains are also home to herds of buffalo, Thomson’s gazelle, Grant’s gazelle and tsessebe (often called topi). You’ll also find East Africa’s best population of black rhino here which, just to confound the safari experts, are often seen in open grasslands. Breeding herds of elephant pass through the Ngorongoro Crater itself only rarely, but you will see a scattering of old bulls, including some of the biggest tuskers left alive in Africa today.
No Ngorongoro safari would be complete without the predators, which are often highly visible on the crater floor. The Crater’s lion population varies significantly over time, the one constant being their complete disregard of vehicles; they will hunt within yards of a vehicle, and when exhausted even seek their shade beside it. Spotted hyena are even more common here, often competing with the lion, and there’s are a small but growing number of cheetah. Leopards are around, especially in the vicinity of the Lerai Forest – a small forest of fever trees notable for their yellow bark, whilst wild dog have not been recorded there for some time. Side-striped and the lovely golden jackal are often seen skulking around, whilst bat-eared foxes area rarer sight.
Only 90-minutes drive from the Ngorongoro Crater, Empakaai Crater is a much smaller crater, yet endearing in its own way. A deep soda lake covers about half of the 6km wide caldera. You’ll often find thousands of flamingos in the shallows of the emerald lake – giving it a spectacular pink tinge. You can drive up to the outer rims of the crater, before taking the 45-minute walk down the path through the forested slopes to the crater floor. The views from the rim over the crater to Ol Doinyo Lengai are thought to be some of the most spectacular in Africa – on very clear days you can even see Kilimanjaro and Lake Natron. Empakaai Crater is a great day trip to consider for those spending more than two nights in the Ngorongoro area. Ask us for more details.
Having waxed lyrical about the Ngorongoro Crater’s wildlife, the reality of safaris there isn’t always as amazing. The sheer number of vehicles in the crater, combined with its open environment, can destroy any sense of wilderness. It can feel crowded and busy. If you’re lucky, this will be mitigated by amazing game sightings; if you’re not it won’t be. So whilst the Ngorongoro’s wildlife is stupendous, the Ngorongoro safari experience isn’t always as good.
For some time we have been expecting a new regime of increased park fees, and constraints on the timing of visits, to help alleviate some of these issues, however nothing has been implemented as of yet. If you’re including the Ngorongoro in your Tanzania safari, then talk to us and we can help you get the best that’s possible. Spend time discussing the options with us. We can then agree a plan for your visit into the Crater with your safari guide – having carefully worked out your priorities with you.
There is no accommodation within the Ngorongoro Crater, but there are four lodges, perched on its rim overlooking the Crater floor.
Ngorongoro Crater Lodge
Ngorongoro Serena Safari Lodge
Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge
Ngorongoro Wildlife Lodge
Then there are a further two places to stay close to the Crater’s rim but not overlooking the floor itself. They still have a very convenient location, but don’t have the views.
Lemala Luxury Camp
Rift Valley Escarpment
There are a number of lodges in the Crater Highlands that can be used as a base for trips to the Crater. Three are particularly close – less than about 20km from the crater rim.
The Plantation Lodge
Ngorongoro Farmhouse Lodge
Bougainvillea Safari Lodge
Lake Manyara Serena
Kirurumu Tented Lodge
The Serengeti is vast and beautiful; it’s one of Africa’s most captivating safari areas. The sheer amount of game here is amazing: estimates suggest up to about two million wildebeest, plus perhaps half a million zebra, hundreds of thousands of Thompson’s gazelle, and tens of thousands of impala, Grant’s gazelle, topi (tsessebe), hartebeest, eland and other antelope – all hunted by the predators for which these plains are famous.
Some of this game resides permanently in ‘home’ areas, which are great for safaris all year round. But many of the wildebeest and zebra take part in the migration – an amazing spectacle that’s one of the greatest wildlife shows on earth. If you plan carefully, it’s still possible to witness this in wild and remote areas.
For a clear understanding of the Serengeti wildebeest migration, see also:
► Google Serengeti map including camps and lodges
► Reference map of the Serengeti showing park boundaries
► Moving map of the Serengeti wildebeest migration.
To get the best out of a visit to the Serengeti, your trip needs to be planned carefully. On this site, we’ve made some notes about the various areas and camps.
The Serengeti National Park itself covers about 15,000km² of mostly flat or gently rolling grasslands, interspersed with the occasional rock outcrops, or kopjes. But this is just the center of a whole ecosystem that covers more than double that area, and includes Grumeti Reserve, Ikorongo Game Reserve, Loliondo Controlled Area, Maswa Game Reserve, part of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and also Kenya’s relatively small Maasai Mara Game Reserve. This combined area is often referred to as the Greater Serengeti area, or theSerengeti-Mara ecosystem.
Vast short-grass plains cover the south of Serengeti National Park, stretching into the north of Ngorongoro Conservation Area, the south-west Loliondo and Maswa Game Reserve. Occasionally there are small kopjes which, like the forests around Lake Ndutu, harbour good populations of resident game. However, around these oases of permanent wildlife, the majority of this area is flat and open. It’s alive with grazing wildebeest from around late-November to April, but can be very empty for the rest of the year. Places to stay here include:
Set on the boundary of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and the Serengeti National Park, the owner-run Ndutu Safrai Lodge has 34 comfortable stone cottages, built in a down-to-earth style.
On the southern edge of the Serengeti, Olduvai Camp stands at the base of a kopje, and has 16 very simple walk-in tents. Run by Maasai, it’s an ideal place to experience their culture
Standing atop a kopje, Kusini is a high-quality permanent camp, with 12 luxurious en-suite tents on polished wooden decks, lots of comfort and excellent food
The smart Olakira Camp has six large, light-coloured walk-in tents, and typically moves between two different areas: Ndutu (December-March) and Kogatende in northern Serengeti (June-November)
Sadly, the Serengeti doesn’t always live up to its potential. It’s easy to end up with a herd of vehicles around you, destroying any sense of wilderness. It’s tempting to opt to rush around on dusty, corrugated roads with little time to stop. It’s also easy to simply miss the migration, which isn’t nearly as predictable these days as many will tell you.
Because of this, planning a safari here can be complicated; we need to guide you to choose the right camps at the right time of year, and get the best experience possible – especially when the wildebeest migration does vary every year.
Some of our trips include a private guide and vehicle, others fly in and out of the lodges, and many are a combination of the two. For ideas of possible combinations
Lake Manyara National Park is very easy to access: it’s about 90 minutes’ drive from Arusha and barely an hour from the Ngorongoro Crater. Because of this, some of the northern side of the park can get very busy, especially in the afternoons. To see the park at its best, we recommend that you either stay within the park or spend two nights somewhere close, entering the park early for a full-day safari.
Many people will often visit Lake Manyara National Park enroute to or from the Crater, as part of a short half day safari. Often they won’t even spend the night in the area, but will rush on, so as to include as many areas, in as short a space of time as possible.
Though this can save on money, we feel that it restricts time and therefore only allows for visits to the busy northern quarter of the park. This can result in a rushed experience of Lake Manyara that can sometimes result in disappointment.
Instead we would recommend the following two options for visiting Lake Manyara National Park. The first is to stay within the park itself, either in a permanent camp or a more mobile one. This tends to be the more expensive choice, but it is certainly the best way to explore the park. It enables you to be on safari before most others, and explore deeper into the park which day visitors won’t have the time to do. Without any doubt, staying inside the park is the best wildlife experience.
Secondly you can opt to stay somewhere outside, but near to the park gate. From here you can enter the park early and enjoy the whole day exploring. There are some economical accommodation options outside the park, some of which are dotted along the top of the Rift Valley Escarpment with great views down across the park
There are two main entrances to Lake Manyara National Park, a gate in the north and in the south. Almost everybody uses the northern gate, since the majority of accommodation options are situated here and as a result the northern part of the park is by far the busier one. The gate in the far south is not commonly used and also has restricted access. Only few camps and lodges can use this entrance. Please contact us for more information on camps that can enter via this quiet gate.
Flora & Fauna of Lake Manyara
Covering about 330km², of which typically two-thirds is underwater, Lake Manyara National Park is a small park by African standards. However, it’s also very beautiful and contains tremendous diversity of habitats, animals and especially birds.
Lake Manyara’s game includes good numbers of elephant, buffalo and wildebeest along with plenty of giraffe. Also prolific in number are zebra, waterbuck, warthog and impala. You may need to search a little harder for the small and relatively shy Kirk’s dik-dik, and klipspringer on the slopes of the escarpment. The broken forests and escarpment make it good country for leopard, whilst Manyara’s healthy lion population are famous for their tree-climbing antics. (Whilst unusual, this isn’t as unique to the park as is often claimed.) Immediately obvious to most visitors are the huge troops of baboons – which often number several hundred and are widely regarded as Africa’s largest.
As with the habitats, the birdlife here is exceptionally varied. In the middle of the lake you’ll often see flocks of pelicans and the pink-shading of distant flamingos, whilst the margins and floodplains feed innumerable herons, egrets, stilts, stalks, spoonbills and other waders. With so much water around, the woodlands are equally productive, but it’s the evergreen forests where you’ll spot some more entertaining species such as the noisy silvery-cheeked hornbills, crowned eagles and crested guinea fowl.
Set beneath the spectacular backdrop of the Great Rift Valley’s steep western escarpment, this long, narrow park protects an area between the escarpment and Lake Manyara. The parks namesake is a shallow, alkaline lake which expands and contracts with the seasons within a long, silvery bowl of salt deposits. Adjacent to it are wide, grassy floodplains and, further away, bands of mixed acacia woodlands. Further still, next to the escarpment, are patches of enchanting evergreen forests, which are sustained by perennial groundwater springs issuing from the base of the escarpment.
Tarangire National Park covers an undulating area of 2,600km², between the plains of the Maasai Steppe to the south-east, and the lakes of the Great Rift Valley to the north and west. The northern part of Tarangire is dominated by the perennial Tarangire River, which flows through increasingly incised ravines until it leaves the north-western corner of the park to flow into Lake Burungi. In the south are a series of vast ‘swamps’ which dry into verdant plains during the dry season.
Although Tarangire is one of only four parks on Tanzania’s sometimes frenetic ‘northern circuit’, it is often either missed out, or given less than 24 hours, by the many relatively cursory mini-bus tours. This means that few get beyond the park’s busy northern section, where the majority of camps and lodges is situated.
If you decide to come to Tarangire at all, then we recommend spending a few days in the south of the park, which gets few visitors and retains a real air of wilderness.
The park’s most obvious features are the permanent Tarangire River, which runs the length of it, and the vast ‘swamps’ – which are, in fact, dry for most of the year. Despite the fact that Tarangire is drier than the Serengeti, its vegetation is generally much more dense including densely packed elephant grass, large areas of mixed acacia woodlands and some lovely ribbons of riverine forest.
Think of Tarangire as part of a much larger ecosystem, and you’ll understand why its game varies with the seasons. From November to May, much of the game leaves the park; herds of wildebeest and zebra head north-west onto the floor of the Rift Valley, whilst many animals disperse across the vast open areas of the Maasai Steppe. From around June to October, it’s dry and the game returns to Tarangire’s swamps, and especially, its river system. This is the best season for a game-viewing safari in Tarangire, which can be excellent.
Particularly large numbers of elephant herds congregate here, as do many wildebeest and zebra. There are also substantial populations of impala, giraffe, eland and buffalo. Thompson’s gazelle, Coke’s hartebeest, bohor reedbuck and both greater and lesser kudu are found here. The localized and unusual gerenuk and fringe-eared oryx also occur here, though in our experience they are seen exceedingly rarely. There are still thought to be a few black rhino in the park.
Lion are common throughout Tarangire, as are leopard, whilst cheetah seem to favour the more open areas of the south. Spotted hyena are always around, and whilst wild dog do sometimes pass through; sightings of them are rare.
With a range of environments and good game, Tarangire’s birdlife is also varied – and over 500 species have been recorded here, including ashy starlings and large flocks of beautiful yellow-collared lovebirds, both of which are endemic to Tanzania.
Tarangire’s vegetation comprises of mostly dry, open woodlands, which include thorny acacia thickets and lots of its signature baobab trees. There are also some beautiful stands of acacia tortillis trees (the flat-topped acacias which are so reminiscent of the film Out of Africa) and the occasional palm tree. In the south of the park, amidst these rolling woodlands, is a network of huge, flat swamps. These are impassable during the rains, but dry to a uniform green during the rest of the year.
Covering 10,300km², Ruaha is Tanzania’s second largest national park. In fact, it’s part of series of conjoined wildlife areas, covering 50,000km² and stretching as far as Katavi in the west. Ruaha itself still has just a handful of camps and, being quite far from Dar, it receives relatively few visitors. Its dramatic scenery includes rolling hills, large open plains, groves of skeletal baobabs and, along its southern border, the wide Great Ruaha River.
Click here for a sketch map of Ruaha National Park, or a much more detailed interactive Google map of Ruaha, where you can see camp locations plotted precisely on satellite maps of the area.
There are only a few lodges in Ruaha National Park; all offer drives and some offer short guided walks. They all differ considerably, so speak to our team who know them well and can advise you from personal experience.
Ruaha River Lodge is owned by Peter and Sarah Fox and located in the heart of the park. It’s friendly, laid-back and unpretentious; and good value if you’re trying to see Ruaha whilst keeping your costs under control.
Near the Ruaha escarpment, the 11 tents are decorated simply, and appear as if they had been pitched yesterday. Mdonya Old River Camp makes no apologies for being a fairly simple camp, seeking safari basics – complete with candle-light. It’s great value and Mdonya tends to appeal to a young clientele who are not particularly comfort-conscious.
Mwagusi Camp is tucked away in a secluded location, and run by another member of the Fox family: Chris Fox. It has very comfortable tents and excellent food, but the attraction here is the passion which the Chris and his team have for the game and environment around them. With the personal feel of a small bushcamp, Mwagusi certainly offers one of the best game experiences in Tanzania.
Kwihala Camp, formerly known as the EMC camp (for ‘Exclusive Mobile Camp’), this is a semi-permanent camp: it moves between two locations within Ruaha National Park. Kwihala is a small stylish camp with six rooms that gives you the feeling of a real bush camp whilst maintaining a high level of luxury and service. The team there is incredibly welcoming and their enthusiasm about Ruaha is infectious. They organise the camp very flexibly around the needs of their visitors.
Jongomero Camp stands beside the ephemeral Jongomero River, surrounded by a wilderness of terminalia woodland. Its rooms are beautiful, spacious and furnished with great quality, at it puts a high value of the creature comforts that it offers; it’s certainly the most luxurious way to experience Ruaha.
In some ways ecosystems in Ruaha National Parks represent a transition zone between the miombo woodlands common in Zambia, and the more open savannah biomes, typical of northern Tanzania and Kenya. This is evident in the park’s vegetation, which is thick in some areas and yet wide open in others.
Ruaha’s prolific game also reflects this transition. It includes species which are widespread to the south – like buffalo, zebra, Defassa waterbuck, impala, giraffe, Lichtenstein’s hartebeest, roan and sable antelope – together with Grant’s gazelle and lesser kudu which are typical of areas further north. (It’s one of the few places where you can see both greater and lesser kudu.)
Ruaha National Park has the largest elephant population of any Tanzanian national park, and is an excellent park for predators. Lion prides are frequently large and habitually doze in sandy riverbeds; cheetah are often seen hunting on the more open plains; leopard are widespread, though characteristically more elusive; and it’s a major stronghold for wild dog. Spotted hyena are more common here than their striped cousins.
Ruaha’s birdlife is extraordinary: over 520 species have been sighted in the park. Along the rivers expect to find goliath herons, saddle-billed storks, white-headed plovers and the white-backed night heron. There are six species of both vultures and hornbills, and raptors abound.
Keen bird-watchers visit Ruaha from mid-November to March, when migrant birds swell the numbers. Then a variety of waders appear along the riverbanks, together with flocks of white and Abdim’s storks. The sooty falcon arrives from the Sahara Desert, and the rare Eleonora’s falcon from the Mediterranean
In Southern Tanzania, on the north-west side of Selous Game Reserve, lie two small, quite offbeat national parks: Mikumi National Park and Udzungwa Mountains National Park. They’re currently visited by very few people, although Udzungwa, in particular, is of considerable scientific importance.
West of the bustling town of Morogoro, Mikumi National Park is small reserve with some lovely scenery and offers a gentle game experience – ideal for a two-night stop and a good base for day-trips to the Udzungwa Mountains. Mikumi shares a border and its game populations with the Selous, so you’ll find plenty here, including elephant, giraffe, wildebeest, zebra, warthog, impala and buffalo. The vast Mkata plain is often a good place to search for lion, whilst the lucky will spot leopard or even wild dog.
The park is bisected by a major road, which detracts slightly from its feeling of wilderness, but does make it easy to reach by vehicle; it’s just four hours south-west of Dar es Salaam.
There are a few fairly simple camps here; all suitable for stopping at with your own vehicle and guide. The best in the area is probably Foxes Safari Camp with twelve en-suite tents. Though Kikoboga Camp is also good with 12 simple, clean cottages made of stone and thatch. There is also Vuma Hills which is only 15 minutes from the park entrance and has 16 spacious en-suite tents.
Part of an ancient group of mountain ranges which stretch across Tanzania and Kenya, known as ‘The Eastern Arc’, the Udzungwa are the most extensive mountain range in Tanzania. They were formed at least 100 million years ago and many endemic species have evolved here, making them something of ‘an African Galapagos’. Local taboos have helped to preserve the wildlife, and now this national park protects almost 20% of the Udzungwa Mountains.
Amongst the larger attractions are 10 species of primate, three of which are endemic: the Uhehe (aka Iringa) red colobus, the Matunda galago and the Sanje crested angabey. The last of these is amongst the world’s 25 most threatened primates. With a day to explore slowly, you’ll usually see the red colobus, along with the black and white Angola colobus. Blue and vervet monkeys and yellow baboons are also common.
More than 400 species of birds live here, including many regional endemics like the Udzungwa forest partridge, which was new to science in 1991. With more scientific research, further new species are bound to be discovered. A quarter of the plants here are endemic, including some Saitpaulia species, closely related to African violets. There are also endemic amphibians, reptiles, and butterflies.
Setting off in walking shoes, with water and snacks, you’ll explore the park’s walking trails with a national parks’ guide. These trails vary in length from a few hours to three days, and do have steep sections, but are always taken at your own pace. Expect to pass streams and waterfalls amidst the thick forest vegetation. We recommend Udzungwa as an excellent day-trip from Mikumi – or perhaps a short stay at the new Udzungwa Forest Mountain camp.
The far west of Tanzania gives home to two of Tanzania’s lesser known national parks: Katavi National Park and Mahale Mountains National Park. This western circuit is extremely remote, tricky to access and pretty costly to visit. As a result few people make the effort to come here and so it has remained an untouched, unique experience, and absolutely worth visiting.
Katavi National Park is a name to conjure with. It is one of the best parks in Africa and many safari operations would love to start camps here. However, the logistics and costs are so difficult, that there are only a couple of small, permanent safari camps sharing this 4,500km² of wilderness. You sometimes run across more prides of lion than other people on a game drive.
Flora & Fauna of Katavi National Park
Once in Katavi, Tanzania’s third largest national park won’t disappoint you. Two enormous plains of knee-high golden grass – Chada and Katasunga – dominate the park, surrounded by varied woodlands and a usually abundant amount of game.
Katavi National Park is at its best in the dry season, when the plains fill with thousands of zebra, topi and impala. Hartebeest, giraffe, and Defassa waterbuck are also very common, there’s a large population of resident elephants, and some impressive herds of buffalo. Katavi is a great park for watching lion-buffalo interactions. Spotted hyena are frequently seen, whilst leopard appear on the woodland fringes, but are more elusive. Wild dog do live here, but tend to stick to the escarpment and are rarely seen on the plains.
During the dry season, the Katuma and Kapapa rivers are the only water for miles. As the game files down to drink, hundreds of hippo congregate in the tiniest waterhole and enormous crocodiles sit out the heat in river-bank mud-holes.
Katavi hosts large flocks of open-billed and saddlebilled storks, spoonbills, crested cranes and pink-backed pelicans. Raptors are plentiful whilst the woodlands of the national park are home to species as diverse as African golden orioles, paradise fly-catchers and pennant-winged nightjars.
Vegetation in Katavi
Katavi is situated on the northern aside of the ‘Rukwa Rift’, an extension of the Western Rift Valley. Katavi’s dry woodlands are dominated by brachystegia species, which are mostly native to tropical Africa and dotted very densely around this area.
Getting to Katavi National Park
Katavi’s isolation has helped it to remain untouched and largely unvisited; by light aircraft it takes four or five hours to reach here from Dar or Arusha. However, the result is that whilst the Serengeti National Park sees around 120,000 visitors per annum, Katavi has only a few hundred visitors per year!
The least expensive way to get to Katavi (and Mahale Mountains, which is relatively nearby) is by using twice-weekly scheduled flights which link these parks with Arusha, in northern Tanzania. Operating on Mondays and Thursdays, their relatively high cost helps to make these parks two of Tanzania’s most expensive destinations!
Since mid-2007, there have been flights routing Dar-Selous-Ruaha to Katavi/Mahale, and back. These also run on Mondays and Thursdays. Sadly, the costs for these are similar to the costs of chartering; certainly no lower than the schedule flights from Arusha
In the extreme west of Tanzania are two national parks that aren’t well known: Mahale Mountains National Park and Katavi National Park.These reserves are exceedingly remote, tricky to access, and costly to visit – but they’re very different from anything else in Tanzania, and totally magical. Mahale is also probably the best place in the world for chimp safaris!
Perhaps the best guidebook to Tanzanian safaris describes Mahale Mountains National Park as “quite simply one of the most beautiful parks anywhere in Africa”. The lakeshore here is a beach of the finest powder-white sand, behind which rises a range of imposing mountains, clad in verdant tropical vegetation. Big electric-blue butterflies flit above the streams and the forest is alive with sound. It’s not only beautiful, but it also harbours Tanzania’s densest population of primates: yellow baboon, red colobus, blue, red-tailed and vervet monkeys are never far away – and then, of course, there are the chimpanzees.
Covering about 1,600km² of the Mahale Mountains, this national park is home to around 1,000 chimpanzees. Most significantly, one group of Mahale chimps – the Mimikire clan – has been habituated by researchers since 1965. Currently led by an impressive alpha male, Alofu, the M-group, as they are commonly known, has around 56 chimps. They go where they want and when they want but are relaxed near people, so it’s possible to track and observe them from very close quarters. For the good of the chimps’ health, all human visitors on chimpanzee safaris are required to wear surgical masks – which will be provided for you.
The hike to reach the Mahale chimpanzees can vary from a leisurely wander of 20 minutes to a more strenuous hike lasting up to three hours. Towards the end of the dry season (August to October) Mahale’s chimp safaris are at their easiest, as the forest paths are at their driest and least slippery, and the chimps are usually at their closest to the shore. Walking boots, long trousers and small backpack (for cameras and binoculars) are always wise for safaris to see the chimpanzees.
We can’t guarantee sightings of the chimps in the Mahale Mountains, but it’s normal to see chimpanzees on most days; you’d be exceedingly unlucky to stay here for several days and not find them. More usually, you’ll be able to sit and watch them foraging, grooming, tussling, bickering and taking care of their young. Sitting in the forest, watching chimpanzees getting on with their daily lives is an unforgettable animal encounter – and that what makes the chimp safaris in Mahale so amazing.
Greystone is the only permanently-staffed safari camp in Mahale; it’s twinned with Chada Camp, in Katavi, and they’re often visited on a combined trip.
Getting to the Mahale Mountains
Their isolation has helped them to remain untouched; by light aircraft it takes four or five hours to reach here from Dar or Arusha. However, the result is that whilst the Serengeti National Park sees around 120,000 visitors per annum, Katavi and Mahale have just a few hundred visitors between them.
The least expensive way to get to Katavi and Mahale is by using twice-weekly scheduled flights which link these parks with Arusha, in northern Tanzania. Operating on Mondays and Thursdays, their relatively high cost helps to make these parks two of Tanzania’s most expensive destinations!
Since mid-2007, there have been new flights routing Dar-Selous-Ruaha to Katavi/Mahale, and back. These also run on Mondays and Thursdays. Sadly, the costs for these are similar to the costs of chartering; certainly no lower than the schedule flights from Arusha.
Camps in the remote areas of southern and western Tanzania are usually visited on fly-in safaris, which use light aircraft to fly between the parks and camp. Flying allows quick access to even remote camps, and scheduled aircraft run frequently. Once at the camps, their own guides will use 4WDs and boats to get you around the parks.
In the northern circuit, the choice is more complex. The main parks here are relatively close together, and so private-guided safaris work very well – and are the obvious choice when small groups or families are travelling together. These have the advantage that you’ll drive through the towns and rural areas, and be able to stop there – giving you insights into local life, and showing you what Tanzania is like outside its safari areas. However, travelling by road is a lot slower, and journeys can be bumpy, dusty and long. You’ll normally travel in closed-cab 4WDs, and use the same vehicle for game drives; whilst these have a pop-top roof for game-viewing, they’re not generally as good as open-topped game-viewing vehicles
Arusha Park is just a few kilometres north east of Arusha and has a rich variety of wildlife, despite the small size of the park
Arusha Park is just a few kilometers north east of Arusha and has a rich variety of wildlife, despite the small size of the park. Having climbed through bustling villages and even a massive new Tanzanian university, you hardly have to get beyond the Parks bright new entrance gate before you’re overlooking ‘Little Serengeti’ which is well worth a scan. With a high chance of seeing herds of buffalo, zebra, the odd giraffe and great bird life, it’s an inspiring start to any safari. You soon move into montane forest inhabited by inquisitive blue monkeys and the only place on the northern safari circuit where the acrobatic black-and-white colobus monkey is easily seen. In fact having been made into stars by a classic Hugo van Lawick film, they are almost falling over themselves to get in front of your camera.
In the midst of the forest stands the spectacular Ngurdoto Crater, whose steep, rocky cliffs enclose a wide marshy floor dotted with herds of buffalo and warthog? Further north, you can see rolling grassy hills which encompass the stunning Momela Lakes, each one a different hue of green or blue. Here you are likely to see thousands of flamingos, as well as a selection of resident and migrant waterfowl.
There is also the chance to canoe these lakes, if organized in advance and devoting enough time to avoid rushing things. This grassy area provides good grazing for herds of Zebra and you often encounter amazingly relaxed Giraffes nibbling at the odd thorn bush. Although elephants are uncommon in Arusha National Park, and lions absent altogether, leopards and spotted hyenas can often be seen in the early morning or early evenings.
This small park is dominated by Mount Meru and even if you aren’t climbing it yourself, its well worth taking some time to explore its lower slopes by vehicle, foot or a combination of both. Covered in an almost mystical cloud forest, with huge Juniper & Nuxia, Olive & Fig trees galore, its open vleis and cascading streams offer chance encounters with forest game including Bushbuck, Red Duiker and Warthog as well as more Colobus if you are lucky. If you have time, which normally means staying in or very near the Park, you can walk within the Crater itself, close to the central ash cone, dominated by the sheer 2000ft cliff rising up to the summit.